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Community & Business

13 May, 2021

Chamber loses leading light

A COUPLE of weeks ago, one of the Tablelands best know identities, Christine Doan, announced that after years of involvement in the local business centre, she was stepping down from her role in the Atherton Chamber of Commerce.


After a decade of involvement, ill health has forced Christine Doan to step down from the Atherton Chamber of Commerce

BY SALLY TURLEY

A COUPLE of weeks ago, one of the Tablelands best know identities, Christine Doan, announced that after years of involvement in the local business centre, she was stepping down from her role in the Atherton Chamber of Commerce. 

Illness in the form of a six year battle with Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) was a significant contributing factor underlying Ms Doan's decision.

ME is a disabling and complex illness which can make it impossible for sufferers to do their usual activities and can confine them to bed with an overwhelming fatigue that is not improved by rest. 

After trying every form of available treatment with little improvement, Christine said her static-filled body and brain needed complete rest.

Christine Doan has been called a visionary, an entrepeneur, an environmentalist and a champion of life's most important causes, but in her own words, Christine Doan said she has simply had the gift of being able to sometimes “see around corners” throughout her life. 

Christine is a woman who has been intuitive enough to live by her gut and confident enough to follow her heart, which she said led her to Australia.

The daughter of wealthy but emotionally cool parents, Christine was a passionate child stifled by her domestic environment.

Born in 1949 in Michigan, America, Ms Doan developed an early fascination with the beauty of dressage horses and how to both make a horse perform and make it happy. This unmet desire was eventually cultivated in Australia. 

After a five month stint hitchhiking around New Zealand in 1970, a time she describes as “delightful,” Ms Doan suddenly knew she needed to come to Australia. 

She still remembers the mystical feeling of landing in Sydney saying “as soon as I put my foot on Sydney concrete, I felt ‘I belong here’ and though I continued to travel around the world, Australia became my home base.” 

Linking up with a couple of Canadian travellers, they headed north over 100's of kilometres of dirt road, with virtually no road signs and at some point, someone told her she should go to the Tablelands. 

Coming over the top of the Gillies and seeing the undeveloped magnificence of the Atherton Tableland was another life-changing moment for Ms Doan. 

She took one look at “this beautiful, mystical place and fell in instant love,” buying her first property, a 140 acre farm in the Lake Barrine area.

Deciding she needed to explore Australia, she bought a bicycle and got as far as Bingil Bay where she fell in love with a French speaking Belgian. 

By the time she learned his language, she realised they had nothing to say to each other anyway and headed back to her farm.

It was at this point she decided to buy her first Australian horses and her hunger for dressage reignited. Germany was mecca in the dressage world in the 1970's and anyone who wanted to be the best gravitated there.

Though she was vilified for deciding to train abroad, Ms Doan is sure she would never have been the only Australian representing the country in dressage in the Barcelona Olympics without learning the basics in Germany. 

She maintains to this day that she was “not very talented, but just worked hard” and laughs about her coach's comment “If you weren't so smart Christine, not even I could get you to the Olympics.” 

Having achieved recognition as one of the world's best in her sport of choice, Ms Doan, although far from satisfied with her olympic experience, was now ready to turn her impressive talents and drive to matters closer to home. 

She joined forces with the local business community, and began coordinating cutting edge workshops complete with world class instructors to ignite the passions of aspiring business people. 

But years later, Ms Doan is questioning whether she was not in fact doing attendees a kind of disservice. 

“Those Start Up Weekends forced members to sprint and sprint, it made them think they could have their own business and their own life in an environment where 3/4, (now 90%) of new businesses were failing. We were promising them something that for most was not achievable.” 

But she was proud of Tracy Beikoff's Rescue Swag success story. Tracy created a first Aid Kit containing a sling, a splint, a compression device and a water carrier, that went on to attract investment after being chosen on the entrepreneurial-themed reality show, Shark Tank, at a Proto Start up Weekend in 2012. 

“We were ahead of just about everyone back in 2016, running what turned out to be Start Up Weekends before anyone ever heard of them. We had the man who ran the world's first Crowd Funding program and business leaders who normally worked with Silicone Valley companies, presenting to people from local firms,” Ms Doan said. 

“We brought business people together with the Tablelands Regional Council Planning Department to talk to each other openly about perceived barriers and to consolidate community development through improved communication.”

Ms Doan particularly enjoyed her time working in the Malanda Chamber of Commerce as she found Malanda a very cohesive town whose Chamber often had more members than Atherton’s. 

She said the community there got behind projects and pulled together to get things done. Predisposed to the continuation of her family's culture of fairness, education and social justice, donating land for the creation of an old people's home on the edge of Malanda seemed not only the right thing to do, but necessary for the town's future. 

“The decline of the dairy industry was causing significant job losses at the milk factory and without Ozcare becoming a major employer in the town and providing a destination for geriatric care, including dementia patients, Malanda would have dwindled,” Ms Doan said. 

“Similarly, lobbying to keep Malanda High School open when declining numbers threatened closure and the revitalisation of the Atherton hospital to stop the exodus of people moving somewhere that had emergency services and geriatric care, was the kind of thing that needed to be done. Minimal lobbying is now done by the business community via the Chamber,” she lamented.

Her 10 years plus as part of the Chamber's executive taught Christine Doan how much leadership mattered. 

“In the past, leadership came from individuals, but I believe our future leaders will be teams and if the Tablelands is going to thrive, it will need a group of leaders, trained in the skill of collaboration,” she said. 

The demise of volunteering is one of Ms Doan's biggest concerns.

“Volunteer projects often have similar compliance requirements as would be expected in a large company. It has become harder for people to find rewards commensurate to the amount of work they have to put in,” said Ms Doan.

“Everyone is so busy and we can't allow our best to burn themselves out. Sadly the drop in volunteering has been linked to an increase in mental health problems. We use to depend on our neighbours, but most people now depend on the government for help.” 

Ms Doan’s enduring mission has been to help create a Tablelands which thrives economically without sacrificing its exquisite environment and cohesive communities. Her own health issues have led Christine to turn her interest to people's mental health and wellness.

She is currently a member of the Australian Steering Committee for Transformative Technology and is trialling a bio-resonance 'wellness device' which realigns and harmonises the body's frequency and is “smarter than I am about what I need.” 

Christine Doan is still passionate about horses, about the area she lives in, about helping people and about improving their quality of life. 

She still has way more ideas than she could ever implement and is proud to call herself an Australian and a Tablelander.    

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